Hometown: Portland, Oregon
Running as: Democrat
Identifies as: Democrat
Outside of politics: actively served in the Air Force for eight years; assistant professor and faculty senate member at Ohio University before mayorship
Incumbent Mayor Steve Patterson is running his third consecutive Athens mayoral race. He was first elected as mayor in November 2015 and took office in 2016; however, no other candidate ran against him during the mayoral race in 2015, resulting in Patterson winning with 100% of the vote.
During the 2019 mayoral race, Patterson faced his first opponent: Damon Krane. Ultimately, Patterson was reelected after receiving 77.48% of the total votes, while Krane received only 22.52% of the total votes.
Given his past connection with OU students, Patterson said he continues to highlight student engagement within the city. He is involved in several organizations and groups on campus, and Patterson was on the search committee to pick OU’s current president, Lori Stewart Gonzalez.
“My love of public service was my deciding factor (to run for mayor),” —Steve Patterson
He said it has always been an important part of his candidacy to build strong connections with students and be a familiar face to all.
Before deciding to run as mayor, he served on Athens City Council as a D-At Large council member for two terms. However, Patterson said he continued to want a larger role within the city to better serve Athens residents.
“My love of public service was my deciding factor (to run for mayor),” he said.
With two statewide issues on the ballot – Issue 1, which addresses the rights of Ohioans to make reproductive decisions, including abortion, and Issue 2, which would legalize homegrown marijuana plants and the use of marijuana by adults who are at least 21 years old – Patterson said he is strongly in favor of both issues passing.
He said he has been openly advocating and encouraging registered voters to vote “yes” on Issue 1 to ensure women have the right to choose their reproductive health care. He said in September, the Athens County Democratic Party also unanimously voted to endorse Issue 1.
“Now we have this ballot initiative for the state of Ohio to decide, and it really caused me to double or triple down (and) just go, ‘We've got to get Issue 1 to pass,’” Patterson said.
Patterson is also in full support of Issue 2. He was raised in Oregon, where marijuana has been decriminalized for the last 50 years, and lives in Athens, where it has been decriminalized for the last six years. He said making the drug legal is nothing new to him.
Mayor Steve Patterson speaks at the Athens Mayor Candidate Forum in Athens, Ohio. October 3, 2023. Photo by Pearl Spurlock.
He suggested that people take the time to educate themselves on Issue 2 and then make the decision for themselves if it’s time to legalize recreational marijuana in Ohio.
It can be a challenge to get students to register to vote in Athens as many may permanently live elsewhere. However, Patterson said there is an Athens City School District bond issue and tax levy on the Athens County ballot this year that could interest students. The bond issue seeks to build a new Athens City High School and improve the district’s other buildings, and the tax levy would increase taxes used to improve the Athens EMS.
Both the bond issue and the tax levy could spark education majors, alums of Athens City Schools or those who have experience attending school in older buildings to register in Athens to improve Athens students’ learning spaces, he said.
However, Patterson said he would rather students be registered elsewhere than not at all. He continues to encourage student voters to vote on statewide issues. It is a complex process to get the word out to students to vote, but Patterson gives credit to his student engagement opportunities that allot to his ability to educate students on the Nov. 7 election ballot.
Though Patterson has been acclimated to the city’s needs for quite some time, he said he has three main initiatives he hopes to implement to improve Athens if he is reelected as mayor.
Illustration by Abbie Kinney | Art Director
Patterson said he has been working on creating more affordable housing options in Athens for quite some time, and he is starting to rule out the causes of it in the city.
He said this is not only a prominent issue in Athens but nationwide, too. If the city doesn’t start creating more affordable prices for homes, then it will not bring in more people to live in Athens, he said.
His second initiative focuses on diversifying the local economy. Patterson said he wants to look at development sectors across the city–aside from Ohio University– that could increase income tax and accessibility of products and services to residents.
He said adding new businesses, companies and health care systems not only creates more job opportunities and draws people into Athens, but it could also create more tourism options if the city starts to get a wider variety of corporations.
His last initiative is to create more hands-on learning experiences for OU students. He said he wants to create opportunities and internships within the city to show students they can readily access those capacities in Athens.
“I am the kind of mayor who is totally open to opening that door to where you can treat the city as an urban lab and test what you're working on,” Patterson said. “I'm down with stuff like that happening because that's going to make the lived experience of the students that much better.”